Rav Yisrael Meir Lau once described the first murder in human history in the following manner. The Torah tells us that, “vayomer Kayin el Hevel achiv vay’hi bihyotam ba’sadeh vayakam Kayin el Hevel achiv vayahargehu,” that “Kayin spoke to Hevel his brother. And it was when they were in the field and Kayin rose to Hevel his brother and killed him.” We can surmise what Kayin and Hevel discussed, but it is unimportant from the Torah’s perspective. What is important is that Hevel went out to the field with Kayin, away from Mom and Dad, and that is where Kayin killed Hevel. Rav Lau suggests that the Torah doesn’t mention the nature of the conversation or whether Hevel responded to Kayin to teach us “im ain hidabrut yesh alimut,” if there is no conversation, then ultimately there will be violence. If the two brothers would have had a real heart to heart conversation with an open mind about whatever the issue was, then they could have reached some kind of compromise. However, instead of words, there was violence, in the form of the first murder in human history.
At the dawn of history, our holy Torah conveys to us the power of the conversation, the impact of two different people with two different ideologies being able to communicate with one another, and, chas v’shalom, what could happen if they choose not to follow this path. That’s why I was heartened this week from different stories that I read of individuals who have chosen to take this path.
I read the story of how Menachem Bombach, educational leader of a Haredi school which combines religious and secular studies, has a wonderful relationship with his daughter Ruth who is secular, how her different religious path has not led to estrangement from her parents. He wrote that his daughter asked him if he was embarrassed by the looks that they received while walking in the mall, the father wearing a black suit and a black kipah and the daughter wearing jeans. He replied, “Even if I am… you are my daughter, and I Iove you, and you are more important to me than anything else in the world.” Menachem learned the power of conversation and communication with his daughter.
Additionally, I was excited by something that Prime Minister touted during his visit to New York City this past week. In a speech to the heads of Jewish federations and Jewish leaders in New York City, he said, “I never thought it would work,” regarding the most diverse government coalition in Israeli history, with members from the ideological right, center and left of Israel, including an Arab party. (Of course, some would argue that if you sit with a far-left-wing party, by definition you are not a right-wing party.) I remember being in Israel in the beginning of July as part of a mission from the Religious Zionists of America when the word on the street was that there is no chance that the current government will last more than a few weeks because of the diversity. But somehow, they learned the power of conversation with each other. I’m not commenting on the policies of the government, about which great minds can differ, but the ability of different ideologies to have conversations with each other and to function effectively with each other can be a model for each of us.
It all dates back to the dawn of history, when the Torah emphasized the power of the conversation and the power of communication. I hope and pray that in the coming year, stories like these will become more the norm and not the exception.